Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Cape Jasmine - Gardenia jasminoides

One of the fragrant flowers that one should have in the garden is Gardenia jasminoides. With glossy dark green leaves and dark greyish-brown bark, this handsome plant produces either single or double-petaled blooms that have a lovely scent. Gardenia jasminoides or Cape Jasmine has many synonyms including G. augusta or G. florida and this plant is known as 栀子花/梔子花 in Chinese.
Gardenia jasminoides, Cape Jasmine, Cape Jessamine, 栀子花
A Gardenia jasminoides flower.

The flowers are white, or off-white that may turn light yellow as the blooms age. Cultivars with blooms that turn yellow rapidly exist, such as ‘Aurea’ or ‘Golden Magic’, thus giving the effect of a yellow gardenia. Once the blooms are spent, they look like wads of tissue paper that had been thrown onto the plant. I did have a friend in university who where puzzled as to why students are so un-civic minded and were throwing used tissue paper on the gardenia hedge that was planted around the faculty building. Only when pointed out that those were the withered blooms of Gardenia jasminoides did she realised what it was.
Cape Jasmine, Gardenia jasminoides, 梔子花
As the flowers of Gardenia jasminoides age, the petals flatten out and eventually look like a wad of white/off-white tissue paper stuck on the plant.

After the blooms, small oval-shaped blooms may follow, and this fruit is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine as well as to extract a usable yellow dye for food and clothing from it. The yellow colouring extracted from Gardenia fruits is called Gardenia yellow and can be used to colour ice-creams, candies and jellies. Besides saffron, Gardenia fruits represent another rich natural source of crocin, a carotenoid responsible for the intense orange colour of saffron.
Gardenia augusta, Gardenia florida, Gardenia grandiflora, 栀子花
The white flowers of Gardenia jaminoides contrast sharply with the dark glossy leaves.

I got the Gardenia as a discarded trimming of the hedge at the university. When the cutting has rooted, I left the pot on the garden (this was in Kajang, and I had a small garden on the front yard). The roots grew through the pot and the pot plant eventually became a tree that birds and even bees made nest in! From this tree, I gave cuttings to several people. Cuttings, especially younger ones, are easy to strike. The plant likes moisture but hates to have ‘wet feet’. Any water-logging (including putting a tray to catch water beneath the pot) would eventually result in root rot and death of the plant.
Gardenia jasminoides, Gardenia jasminoides veitchii, Pycnonotus goiavier, Yellow-vented bulbul
A pair of Yellow-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus goiavier) fledgling perched in the cover of a huge Gardenia jasminoides bush. They are perched on a mulberry branch under the cover of the Gardenia leaves.

As Gardenia requires acidic soil, growing Gardenia in soil with high pH would result in chlorosis of the leaves. This is the result of impaired micronutrient, especially iron are impaired under high soil pH. Gardenias love light and usually filtered sunlight would suffice, but established plants can take full sunlight. My old Gardenia ‘tree’ gets a full day’s sun (east – west orientation) and the bush at J & A’s balcony also receives full sunlight. As long as there is enough moisture, a matured shrub would be very happy with as much sunlight as it can get.

The scent of Gardenia jasminoides flowers, despite smelling very strong, does not travel far unlike those of Jasminum sambac. Hence to smell the flowers, you probably got to cut the blooms and bring it in, whereas the smell of Jasmine travels with the breeze well, and leaving a balcony door open would suffice.